There has not been enough press about the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill published on 21 June 2011. The effect of this bill will be to remove legal aid from some of the most vulnerable in society.
Public funding for representation and, crucially, basic legal advice in areas such as housing law, welfare benefits, debt, private law family cases (save where there is domestic violence), employment, immigration, clinical negligence and education will stop.
These are areas of law which the poorest & least educated in society regularly rub up against.
Part of the professional duty of a solicitor has always been to speak up and say what the client would say for themselves – if they were articulate enough to do so. Putting one’s education and communication skills at the service of someone who has unfairly or inadvertently found themselves on the end of a raw deal in housing or benefits is not a financially rewarding role but it is a tremendously satisfying role.
Often, a very limited amount of legal advice costing £100 of public money has saved the courts, benefits agency and other government departments getting embroiled in costly disputes. Alternatively, putting the case across clearly & concisely has lit up a path through complex legislation to a sensible outcome.
We believe that these cuts are wrong. They will deprive the poorest in society of a voice, and of advice which is of critical importance. Losing your home, family or job are some of the most stressful events anyone can go through. When you are on £65 per week situations like that take on a greater hopelessness without help & assistance.
If the Government presses on with these proposals, then those who are deprived of sensible advice and effective representation will have no practical legal route to take. In such circumstances, it is easy to see how riots & unlawful acts can be expected to increase. The courts will grind to a halt under the burden of people who have nowhere else to go.
The removal of clinical negligence cases – even for children – is also lamentable. The high start-up costs of these cases make it impossible for the average person to fund them privately. Children who suffer serious and lifetime injuries due to medical mistakes will not be able to seek settlements to pay for care. The costs will fall on an already stretched NHS.
We hope that the Government will be persuaded to think again. We have made our own representations to the Ministry of Justice.
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